St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

78th Annual Sterling Settler's Picnic

Back in the late 1930s, the folks who had lived in West Sterling, along the St Croix River, got together for a reunion picnic at the junction of Trade River and Cowan Creek -- at the Boy Scout camp just up from the bridge.
  They enjoyed themselves so much, that now 78 years later, folks from the area still gather to have a summer picnic and talk about the old days.  Nowadays it is at the Cushing Community Center in Cushing, WI,   This year it is Sunday, June 26th noon potluck.
  Having gone to picnics since I was a kid, and helped with them since then, I sort of fall into assuming that I should go each year.  And Margo and I do.  Mom was the secretary (or maybe treasurer) for many years, and she and dad always got us to help prepare the picnic, back in the days when preparing included mowing the poison ivy, cutting the brush around the campsite, helping the Christenson's setup the wooden benches and gathering firewood to make a wash boiler full of coffee.
   Nowadays it is easier, as we have facilities that are ready to go with a little rearrangement.  The outdoor picnics were great, and we often had 100 or more folks come.  Nowadays we are happy to keep the picnic running, even if the group is smaller.  One of those traditions that attempt to add a little glue to a community--a chance to visit with your neighbors and to honor the older folks in our community with an award just for being 80 years old or better and for being married for 50 years or more.
  Sometimes it seems that I get too wrapped up in helping put on the picnic (and other events sponsored by our local history societies) so I am more worried that everything goes smoothly than I am able to enjoy the event.  Feeling responsible for things is a fault I have, because even if I didn't show up, the picnic would go on fine, people would still enjoy themselves, and the few touches I add would not be missed.  When I get old, I am going to try to do better at enjoying things and being more irresponsible.  I have a good start, as my responsibility has been declining as my memory of what it is I am supposed to do has faded.  I tell people that if you want me to do something on a particular day and time, send me an email the day before or morning of and you have a decent chance of seeing me there.
  Want to know what a 1960s Sterling Old Settler's Picnic was like?  Read a previous blog entry at this link;   1960 Sterling Picnic

Photos from the 2015 picnic can be seen at:  2015 Picnic photos

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer #70

June has arrived on the farm; the gardens are growing, the grass lush, the hot weather still welcome, some lettuce, spinach, rhubarb and the start of strawberries from the garden move us into summer again.

With Margo away visiting her relatives in West Bend, Scott and I tour into the 1958 bathroom and re-plumbed, fixtured, floored, walled etc.  We changed it with handicap accessibility in mind -- attempting to make the house ready for an older but familiar set of residents.   It is nice here, so getting things pre-arranged makes sense as we tumble into our 7th decade (at least I do this year).

Margo is still somewhat wobbly from the back surgeries and continues with physical therapy with the hope of regaining more strength and balance.  I am pretty normal and can actually still do a hard day's work--for me that means gardening or wood cutting or maple syruping.  I doubt I would stand up for a day's throwing hay bales around like Dad did in his 70s.

Fixing old buildings, cleaning out machinery and getting rid of 76 years of farming accumulation is progressing slowly, but steadily.  Doing it slowly is not too bad, as long as we keep making progress.  The next job is some reworking the lake cabin porch --roof and supporting poles need some replacement after 41 years.  We built it when Margo was pregnant with Scott, so we can remember the age easily.

I like to follow politics and over the years have changed from moderate Republican to moderate Democrat.  By the Bill Clinton years, it seemed as there no longer any room for moderateness in the Republican party--which in Minnesota was really a moderate group with folks like Arne Carlson and Rochester's Republican representative who was actually pro-choice.

Things have been pretty stable economically over the past 6 years, not booming, but most everyone who wants a job can find one, and in Minnesota, with its better economy, businesses are having difficulty hiring folks.  We in NW Wisconsin benefit greatly from the MN economy as if we want a good paying job and are willing to drive across the border, we can find one.

With graduation underway and graduation cards and parties I look back over my own life.  The very best thing I did for myself was to stay in school through college.  I had a math science degree and went back after that for a teaching degree.  I know, even now, that if I wanted a decent job, I could find one as a math science teacher.  I didn't stay at that, and went into computers, and even in that field I could go back if I wanted to.  Mostly the education opened the door for all sorts of opportunities with the degree, the key to the lock.

So I give the advice that was given to me by Dad which varied  from "get as much as education as you can stand" to "stay in school as long as you can stand it."  Back in the 50s and 60s, we still could get a decent union job and do the 35 years and out, but that seems mostly gone.  The attack by the right on unions set a race to the bottom for employers.  I remember when this all started -- an incessant flow of stories in the Reader's Digest attacking unions for corruption and practices (think Jimmy Hoffa).  It was true that some unions needed cleaning up, but folks like Reagan came in and intentionally broke unions (air controllers).

  With no collective power, employees are at the mercy of the employer.  My early working days were always union.  The plastic factory,  Stokely's canning company, my 2.5 years of military obligation served in a hospital (I refused to kill people and got assigned to be a nurse's aide in a county nursing home and mental institution instead -- there I helped start and was in charge of the union of 250 workers when I was 23), and then my teaching years.  We had a combined worker voice to approach management about working conditions, pay, benefits and problems.

Anyway, nowadays, my advice to new graduates:  you are on your own in the world of jobs and you are only as good as you prepare yourself--and that isn't physical preparation, but mental (at least if you want a decent paying job most places).  Life can be much easier if you earn enough money to make it so, and that requires self investment, which really means education.  So "stay in school longer than you can stand it" is my version of Dad's advice.

Of course, some of us really did like learning and thought teachers were not only the gateway to good jobs, but what was really important, learning how the world works.  Science and math were, I thought, the only real fields where what you do has the ability to actually improve people's lives for the better.  I don't mean that art or music or writing isn't good, but that what scientists do actually can keep people from illness, from starvation and solve physical problems we face.  When physical problems are at bay, we can enjoy the rest of what life offers.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Fast Spring

With an excellent maple syrup season finished, gardening getting underway, and things going along smoothly, time to catch up a little here.
If you are a facebook user, then you can see a daily photo post of what is happening on the farm by checking my posts there.

Russell B Hanson Facebook Posts

We had planned to put out most of our 400 buckets this year for maple syrup season, but with the early warm weather in February and March, we ended up with only 100.  That was good as we had an excellent season making about 35 gallons of excellent quality syrup. An average year for 100 buckets would be 25 gallons.

This was the earliest ever (in my life) of the lake opening -- mid March.  Before that we had some end of March and normal is mid April.  Everything seemed to be ahead of schedule by several weeks including the end of maple season about the beginning of April.

This spring has been an attempt to do more cleaning on the farm, removing some of the old fences, repairing buildings, cleaning out and getting rid of some of the things only a working dairy farm would use.

Margo continues to improve, and is starting to walk around without a walker or cane.  Her back surgeries got rid of much of the pain, but left her weak and with balance troubles, so she goes to physical therapy weekly.  She is clear of cancer returning and gradually getting back to normal.

You can see a lot of photos on Facebook from maple syrup season.

We planted more apples, enlarged the gardens, and in general are still expanding our efforts on the farm.  No cattle yet!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Maple sap collection -- Pulsed Vacuum Research

To Pulse or not to Pulse?  Does Pulsed Vacuum Improve Maple Sap Yields?

R. Burl Hanson, Research Scientist, Northwestern Wisconsin Maple Products Laboratory
Funding: Nevada Maple Products Association Inc.  

Maple syrup producers have gained greatly in efficiency, yield, and tree health over the past few hundred years by constantly improving the process.  We have moved from the wide bark slashes made by Native American to drilled holes of an inch diameter gradually down to the current 5/16 inch in an effort to do less damage to the tree.  

We have placed pipelines through the woods connecting trees together with gravity flow into centralized tanks gaining labor efficiency.  We have applied a constant vacuum to the pipelines to gain production of 20-30 percent over gravity feed.  We have learned to replace the tip of the spile each year to deter bacteria from entering the tree, and recently moved to check valve replaceable tips to prevent backflow—each step improving the yield of sap per tree hole.  We have experimented with different vacuum levels, pipeline sizes, and various and sundry other changes to improve our sap/cost ratio.  

We have adopted reverse osmosis sap filtering, ultraviolet sap sterilization, air infiltration evaporator boiling, pressure syrup filtering with diatomaceous earth and dozens of other innovations in the past 50 years as research guides our future.  

Many years ago, as a young man helping his father on our Wisconsin dairy farm, I too tried using a vacuum milker pump to increase sap yield.  We hooked directly to the barn vacuum pump and applied a continuous vacuum of about 15 lbs.   It was successful and we got higher yields on vacuum assisted taps and adopted vacuum pipeline decades ago.    

On the farm, vacuum pumps ran milking machines to automate milking cows.  The milking machines copied the pulsing suction of a calf drinking at the spigot. The machine pulsed the vacuum once per second to match the calf and a hand milker’s rate.  I wondered then if a pulsed vacuum would change the sap yield over a continuous vacuum.  Dad had no interest in letting me take his Surge milker to the woods much less hook it to a tree, so the thought remained idle until last year.   

Fifty years later, having retired from a career in scientific research, I was preparing for maple syrup season getting equipment stored in the old farm milkhouse, still as it was when Dad quit milking cows 30 years ago.  I noticed the Surge milking machines still on the rack near the bulk tank.  I remembered my curiosity about pulsed vacuum.    

Milking machines of the 20th century had a mechanical pulsator on them, two small pistons that slid back and forth actuated by the vacuum, pulsing the vacuum sent to the the actual cow milking part, four metal teat cups with flexible rubber “inflations” that did the squeezing with each pulse.   With equipment available and a background in scientific research to guide me, and funding available,  I could finally try to answer the question  “To pulse or not to pulse?”

I cleaned, oiled the pulsator, and tested the Surge milker—it worked fine.  I set it to 60 pulses per minute, the cow rate.  I brought it to a tree adjacent to the sugarshack where I could observe it while cooking syrup.  I removed the 4 teat cups and blocked off two of them (only wanted two for my test) and hooked the other two to plastic hoses going to freshly drilled 5/16 inch taps, 2 inches deep.  Of four taps, two would be pulsed and two would have continuous vacuum.  For two weeks I measured the output and sugar content of each pair of taps—one coming directly into the milker bucket and the other into a special tank.   After two weeks, I switched the pulsed and continuous vacuum taps so I could rule out tap hole variation.  

Results:    Statistical analysis shows with significance of P less than 0.001 that pulsing vacuum gives a 20.1-26.2 percent greater sap flow than continuous vaccum.  Whichever set of taps had pulsed vacuum gave at least 20% higher sap yield than continuous vacuum.  Sugar content was the same for all taps all periods.  
Discussion:  The mechanism underlying greater sap flow with pulsed vacuum is not intuitive.  Pulsing may provide the tree with a brief respite that continuous vacuum does not allow.  Trees are thought to have their own intrinsic pulse as they push sap from the roots to the leaves at least according to some biotreeologists.  It is possible that we are tapping into this synchronically with the tree’s own biorhythmic nature. 

 As pulsing is clearly a yield enhancer, we anticipate rapid and extensive adoption in 2012.  The only contraindication is that checkvalve wear was accelerated due to the 60 times a minute the ball rolled to open and close.  Additional testing showed a new checkvalve would last for 46 days average (46 +-5 Standard error 2.5), an average season.  

Future:  With additional research funding we hope to continue with efforts to understand what is happening.  We plan to do experiments varying the pulse rate from once per minute to 100 times per minute in steps of 10.  We have developed and patented a simplified pulsator (nicknamed Pulsing Mathilda) that is connected at the vacuum pump and pulses the whole pipeline at once. We have patented this method and are licensing it at 18 cents per tap hole with discounts for larger producers.  Call for direct sales or dealership opportunities.  Research contributions of signed blank checks are welcome.  

Reported April 1, 2011.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Maple Syrup Season Underway

Put out about 100 sap buckets last week and cooked out the first batch of syrup -- earlier than we have ever done in my memory.  With days in the 50Fs to 70F it was too warm for a good season, but that is changing this week with temps back to normal.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Honkings of Spring

Spring weather breezed in Saturday with 60F on the farm, and sneaked away today with just above freezing.  We are close to tapping our maples, but decided to wait until Friday as the forecast this week is not quite warm enough.  
  After tapping and using buckets, we have about 5 weeks before the tap holes dry up from natural healing processes, so we wait until the last minute-- a gamble, but if we tap now and, like last year, the best runs are in mid April, we might totally miss it. 
  Yesterday Scott and I took the chainsaws and went through the maple sap trails and cleaned up the down trees, branches and brush so the tractor will have an easy path.  We still need to do some trimming small prickly ash shoots that grow back near the maples each year from the stub. 
  Sunday afternoon, windy and cold, Margo and I took a short trip to see what was in the open water areas.  We didn't hit the St Croix, instead stopping at Holmes Lake on Trade River and Atlas at the dam and lake.  

The ground just south east of the dam was green with a ground cover all through the trees and brush.  Escaped from the yard it appears.  

A narrow area up from the Atlas dam and around to the west -- from Hwy B where it goes south.  

Holmes Lake 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Drop of Sap Dripped

First Drips of Sap of the Year
 (the link is to the video on "Back Yard Syruping" my daily facebook post on how the maple sap season is coming along.  You should be able to see it even if you don't use facebook)

  Try    to see the public facebook pages.  You have to be a facebook user to make comments, I think, but you should be able to see the daily updates

The sugar maple test tree started dripping this afternoon, slowly at only 1 drop every 3 seconds, but it is started.  Probably will not tap more trees right away until we see if it continues, but with 50F predicted for Saturday, we may be into the season. 

Some photos from today as I took a drive up the River Road and then at the cabin and lake.   The River was partially open from Spangler's landing to Nevers Dam.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Waiting for A Drop to Drip

With maple sap season still likely a few weeks off, been sort of at loose ends, not quite ambitious to take on big projects on the farm, but too much guilt if I don't keep active, so did a few small improvements around the farm and spent some time in my favorite past time of looking around my neighborhood.  Photos from the last few days as we lost the snow and some water started pooling on the pond.  Couple of videos from last week too at the end of this post -- including pulling over the old corn crib with the tractor, a lot more fun than all the fixing things we have been doing. 

Tapping a Test tree

Pulling down the old corn crib video

Friday, February 19, 2016

Write Right Right Now!

This appeared in the Inter-County Newspaper at Frederic WI several years ago. 
(Note to Editor:   It would be best to leave the article below unedited, as there are 43.4 intentional errors or problems that are necessary to make the article work.)
River Road Ramblings:  To Grammatically Write Rite by Russ Hanson

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    Having a weekly column for the past five years, we have had some criticism of our writing style, punctuation, word usage, spelling and grammar.  It is time to respond to the criticisms and review grammar rules so we all can learn and improve in the future.

    Doc Squirt (Roy Hennings), a Cushing native who wrote for many newspapers from 1900 to his death in 1943 was often taken to task by his editors for his lack of punctuation.  He solved it by sending the editors a typewritten page filled with commas, periods, colons, semicolons, question marks and exclamation marks with the instructions to “feel free to sprinkle them throughout his columns."  I am more like Mr. Dumpty in that I have never, ever, ever, been intimidated, by grammar, and know who is the master!  So without farther adieu, here are some lessons.

    Utilize ostentatious language:  Never use a simple word when you can think of a big one.  Thusly, utilize replaces use; canine for dog; automobile for car, etc.  I especially like the signs on Hwy 87 designating Evergreen Avenue, the route to horsie camp as the “Equestrian” area.      

    Create interest with verb conjugations:   You have numerous alternatives.  I shall be giving examples in the first person (I), but remember you have the “I/me/my” “he/she/thee/thy/thine”, “we/they/them”, and of course the “ye,you,thou” singular/plural and objective, subjective and possessive too.  If you want to be a good writer, you should practice each variation that follows in a sentence.  Sometimes you can change the mood of a story by switching from the past/present/future indicative, subjunctive or conjunctive mood to another, especially in your dependent clauses. 

    Use the right conjugations:   The infinitive verb “to write” conjugates thusly: 
the present basic                     I write
the present progressive          I am writing
the present perfect                  I have written
the present progressive          I have been writing
the past basic                          I wrote
the past progressive                I was writing
the past perfect                       I had written
the past perfect progressive   I shall/will have written
the future basic                       I shall/will write
the future progressive                        I shall/will be writing
the future perfect                    I shall/will have written
the future perfect progressive I shall/will have been writing
the intensive present              I do write
the intensive past                    I did write
the habitual past                     I used to write
the "shall future"                    I shall write
the "going-to future"              I am going to write
the "future in the past"           I was going to write
the conditional                        I would write
the perfect conditional           I would have written
the subjunctive,                      if I be writing, if I were writing.
Non-standard usage:  I be writing, I done rote, I have wrotten, I writed it, I writ it, and Dudley do write.  

    I use Microsoft Word to write my columns.  Word has a basic grammar checking tool built in that along with spell check fixes half of my problems and creates 25% new ones by sowing doubt.    

    Punctuation marks:   The seasoning in your writing.  They try to tell the reader how the writer felt and more importantly, the pauses to take a breath if you are moving your lips while you read.  Punctuation used by most of us include; the period, the comma, the apostrophe and the exclamation mark.  Adventurous authors sprinkle semicolons: very brave authors will try a colon on special occasions:  Her colon was cleansed before the x-ray. 
    Emoticons:  Punctuation marks are rapidly changing with the introduction of emoticons.  Exclamation can be represented by the “!” mark, but how do you indicate sadness without a sad faced emoticon :-( or a smile :-).  Sadly, when I emoticonize my writing, the Leader, in translating from the PC to MAC computers, loses them and what you see are ? marks in the printed text. 

    Quotation marks.  “Put commas, exclamation marks and periods inside the quotation marks!”  Question marks rarely go outside.  “You too, Brutus?”  Did Caesar say “You too, Brutus”?  The second example has a quotation within a question. If you always punctuate inside quotes you will be 90% correct, and the rest of the time, no one will notice anyway.

    Who’s on First:  the correct use of “who,” “whom,”  “who’s,” “hoo,” “hoose,”
“Hoose”  is only used in “hoose gow” a euphemism for the slammer.
“Who is” can be shortened to who’s.  “Who’s going to town.”
Whose:  “Whose shoes are those?”
Whom:  you should be able to get through life without using this word.  “To whom do I owe my knowledge of grammar?” is better replaced by, “Who taught me grammar?”  If the answer is him, the question uses whom; if the answer is he, then the question is who.
Who loves you baby?  He does!  Whom do you love?  Him!    “Whom” is popular amongst and betwixt those whose sign is Antiquarius.

    An owl says “hoo hoo” when commenting on the world in general. An owl who says “who? who?” is likely a philosopher.  The owl in my back yard says “Who? Who? Who? Hoo, hoooooooer” asking and answering herself as do most females.  Generally most people don’t give a hoot about this.   

    Contractions:  Shortening words by replacing letters with an apostrophe; gov’t, can’t, they’re, she’ll, o’clock, it’s and the creative I’d’ve .  Gov’r Palin speaks in contractions as in “I’m runnin’ for pres’dent to be savin’ us from death panels.”

    Possessive Apostrophes:  Darla’s womb’s muscle’s fiber’s cell’s nucleus’ DNA strands were punctuated by contractions.  Ownership is shown by the addition of the “apostrophe s” except in some cases where we already have enough s’s and just add the apostrophe at the end—Russ’ books. 

    To Boldly Split Infinitives:  An infinitive is a verb preceded by the word “to.”  To run, to walk, to go, to write, to talk or to split.  Grammar rules say don’t break them up.  It's best never to unintentionally split infinitives (unless you want to really emphasize something).  I am willing to strongly predict writers will obsolete this rule at the World Grammar Society meeting in Helsinki in 2012. 

    Passive voice:  Using was, were as part of your verb with the intention of putting your readers to sleep.  Examples include:  “Mistakes were made” instead of “I made mistakes.” “Margo was talking in a passive voice after having botox injected into her vocal cords last week” instead of “Margo speaks impassively after the botox shot.” 

    Adjectives and Adverbs:  Words that add color to your sentence.  I shot a deer.   Shot is a verb, if you color it, you use adverbs.  Rapidly, boldly and colorfully, I shot carefully and accurately at the huge brown hungry deer.  The “ly” adverbs describe the verb “shot” with “huge, brown, and hungry” adjectives describing the noun deer.  Adjectives and adverbs are necessary to make things interesting and are especially useful if you are paid for writing by the word.     

    Homophones To, Too, Two:   Use two for 2, too if you mean also or too much and the rest of the time use to.  The two boys were too used to having cake and ice cream too, to be satisfied with less.  With society becoming more tolerant, homophonobia has pretty much disappeared. 

    Euphemism: replacing a strong word with a weaker one.  I shot a deer becomes I harvested a deer.  The deer died becomes the deer went to heaven.  People who criticize my grammar are anal retentatives becomes people who criticize my grammar need a hobby. 

     If you want more grammar lessons in this column, please send a note and we will be glad to take on “their, there, they’re”, “lie, lye, lay, lied, laid”, “buy, by, bye”, “sit sat, set, sated, and besotted” and protractions, retractions, subtractions, abstractions, refractions, extractions, attractions, and transactions.    

    “Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: You find the present tense and the past perfect”  said Robert Orben.  


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Maple Syruping in Great Great Grandpa's time

Great Great Grandpa Lathrop Watson Beebe grew up in Western New York and lived there 1822 - 1864.  He lived in Freedom Township, Cattaraugus County.  The poem and image below come from a book written in 1894 remembering 70 years earlier when the author was a child.  The experiences must have been much the same as GG Grandpa Lote experienced.  The family made maple syrup in NY and then in Wisconsin


                   Maple Sugaring by William R Freeman

My father had reserved for the household use
A part of the grand old forest for wood:
Some trees were maple, from whose sacharine juice
We made our sugar and syrup so good.

With the first warm breath of spring on the breeze,
Before the sweet songs of the birds began.
We would go out and tap the tall maple trees.
And gather the sap in troughs as it ran.

Then on a brisk fire, in our big kettles two,
We boiled it all day, and oft' into night;
If we failed in the day all our task to do.
We finished it up by the fire's light.

And thus we made our sugar, day after day.
Freely uncontrolled by a sugar trust;
There was no one to say we must work or play—
We only stopped work when God said we must.

And then at the end of the frosts and the snow.
The season for making our sugar o'er.
We would take our sweet treasure and homeward go.
And add more comfort to the household store.

From the book Reminiscences of Farm Life in Western New York Seventy Years ago by W. R. Freeman.